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Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Maybe My Dick Is too Small?

How is a guy supposed to know that his penis is too small? It’s not like I’ve seen a lot of them. I’ve seen porno’s but everyone says that TV adds ten pounds to people and I guess it all goes right down there. I have noticed that women laugh when they see me for the first time. When I ask them what is so funny they all say, “Oh, just something funny that happened at work today.” That always convinces me and two minutes later I’m sleeping like a baby. Sometimes I wake up long enough to ask if my date can please turn her vibrator to low so a guy can get some shut eye.

Another thing that makes me wonder about myself is all the e-mails I get about increasing my size. Some of them actually use my name so perhaps someone told them that I am lacking in that department. Did someone give my name out?

If you use hotmail you are pretty familiar with these ads for penis enlargement. I suppose this is the price one pays for being on the internet. I came across one of these claims in a full-page ad in Men’s Journal. What am I doing subscribing to Men’s Journal? I think it was a gift. No really. I get lots of magazines. Wait a second; I’m not on trial here.

We all agree that Men’s Journal is a total piece of shit but it is a mainstream magazine that has a huge circulation. All of this gives an air of legitimacy to anything found within and subsequently to this product. The ad reads:

BE THE BIGGET MAN YOUR LOVER EVER HAD!
Nothing, I mean NOTHING will beat the look on your lover s [sic] face when she sees it for the first time…watching her gasp..almost in disbelief…with a slight look of FEAR in her eyes.

Not lust, mind you, but fear. It is fairly obvious that this ad is geared towards the no-dick dudes who get laughed at when they drop’em. This product promises a sort of glandular revenge. You’ll be packing a little bit of Charles Bronson in your pants if their claims have any merit.

Why should I settle for “a slight look of fear?” If I’m going to do this I’m going to do it right. I want abject terror when I whip it out. I want villagers running for their lives in panic like in some bad Japanese monster movie from the 1960’s.

I shudder to think of the resources this society has spent on cosmetics: minor weight loss, breast and penis enhancement, hair loss, et cetera. If only we were so self-conscious of our intellectual shortcomings. If we put a fraction of the energy and resources into our minds that we put into our asses we would, in 10 years, make all of the accomplishments of the Renaissance look like the cultural equivalent of an episode of 3’s Company by comparison.

But instead of a new Renaissance we are a nation obsessed with our abs. We care little for what a woman has to say just as long as her jugs arrive two minutes before she does. A guy will undergo $10,000 worth of hair transplants but he won’t take the time to read a Shakespeare play. I’m not the smartest guy in the world but I give myself credit for being ashamed of my ignorance. I have met adults who couldn’t name 10 states and they couldn’t care less. What can this mean for a civilization?

Monday, July 29, 2002

Canons and Fastballs

I have taken the past week off from life while my 12 year old nephew visits me from Chicago. To borrow a quote from my nephew, “Being 12 years old isn’t half bad.” Having a 12 year old kid around isn’t half bad either.

Under the guise of childcare a pseudo-intellectual dipshit like me has an excuse to see the new Austin Powers movie. I can be amused without guilt as a midget receives a cruel beating. OK, so I was laughing my ass off but only because the kid thought it was funny. I don’t think I have been subjected to so many dick jokes since I myself was 12. Come to think of it, when I was 12 I could have written an Austin Powers movie.

I live across the street from the Seattle Center which is a sort of a low-rent Disneyland. As the Eiffel Tower has its Ferris wheel, the Space Needle has its half-assed amusement park. Along with the carousel and the Ferris wheel there is a video game house. This place is like a casino for kids and my nephew has a video game addiction worse than any Las Vegas burn-out. He can stretch out a couple of bucks longer than your granny playing nickel slots.

Like all good parents do, I left him to his devices as I sat outside finishing my book, A Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart. Piano Shop is the story of a guy who discovers a piano shop in his Paris neighborhood and also rediscovers his love of the instrument. Some people are self-taught on the piano but most of us mere mortals need teachers. Being a parent and being a teacher seem to be similar vocations.

I have a piano in the middle of my apartment so naturally my nephew has taken to it. He plays the viola but has never really been introduced to the keyboard. I have been teaching him to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D major. This piece wasn’t originally written for the keyboard so you are able to play it at any level of difficulty as long as you remain in D major. This piece can also be played by two people which is pretty fun.

I am surprised that he hasn’t been taught this piece before as everyone likes it. Perhaps his music instructor is simply sick of teaching it year after year. One of my piano teachers told me that if she had to teach Für Elise one more time she would explode.

From the rudiments of Pachelbel’s Canon my nephew has learned to improvise in that key. Pretty simple stuff but something I never knew at his age. A little bit of instruction goes a long way on the piano. He will sit and pluck away at the keyboard until I find some other means to occupy his time.

As I was at his age, my nephew is fairly obsessed with baseball. He gave me a stack of Seattle Mariners baseball cards as a gift the last time he visited. I use them for book markers. I no longer play baseball myself but I remain fairly obsessed with the game. I got him an instructional baseball that has markings to help you throw a fastball, a curve, and a slider. I haven’t thrown a ball around much lately and I was afraid my arm would fall off but it felt pretty good. It felt really good. I felt like a kid.

I never played organized baseball growing up. We had enough kids in our neighborhood so that we could always get a pick-up game going in no time flat. No adults needed, none welcomed. We never really learned how to play the game very well although I think we gained a lot by simply improvising in the right key.

Tonight I’m taking the kid to see the Seattle Mariners play the Detroit Tigers. I hope the Mariners win. It will make the kid happy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Cycling: My Anti-Bacon

Were it not for cycling my blood would need Charles Bronson digging full-time in my arteries. Instead of tunneling through dirt and rock this star from The Great Escape would be digging through the remains of bacon and cheeseburgers. He would have to dump the plaque from my arteries, little by little, on to the exercise yard so as not to attract the attention of the Germans. Yesterday I made the little Charles Bronson in my veins work over-time.

A couple months ago I was driving around out in the mountains looking for a spot to go hiking. East of Seattle about 80 miles I got off the interstate and drove through the town of Cle Elum. From this high plateau I followed highway 98 through a beautiful canyon. As I drove along this road I couldn’t stop thinking about how great this road would be on my road bike. There is barely any traffic, no signs of human existence for 40 miles, and the road is a continuous series of hills--not hills, but mountain passes. You are constantly warned that tire chains are required on this road throughout the winter months.

I finally got around to riding this road yesterday with a girlfriend of mine who is a fantastic cyclist. We ditched my car at the far end of the canyon and started riding back up the way we came. I was setting the pace at a respectable 12.5 mph up the steep incline. I knew within the first 2 miles that I was in for a long day. In French cycling parlance I was having what is known as “un jour sans” or a day without. Without what is whatever you want to call it: guts, nuts, energy, cojones, whatever. I didn’t have it. I kept up the pace because I’m a stupid macho idiot. I kept saying that I was OK and I continued setting the pace. I was pretty miserable but this is how I have fun.

This canyon is extremely beautiful and even though I was suffering considerably I could appreciate everything around me. The road is in great shape and is tailor-made for cycling because it has a big shoulder and there is hardly any traffic. What the road doesn’t have is a single foot of level terrain. You are either going up or going down.

The first section is a steady 10 mile climb--10 miles up without a single break. Some of it is quite steep. In the steepest sections there is an extra lane on the highway for the vehicles that struggle with the climb. It was also a completely cloudless day and we baked in the 90 degree heat.

We had planned to go 20 miles out before heading back but I confessed that 40 miles of pain didn't didn’t sound like fun for me today. We decided that 15 was a good number which made for a 30 miles trek. I wasn’t paying very close attention on the drive in and I thought that it was a continuous climb and that when we hit our mark of 15 miles we would simply turn around and pedal back down to the car. At 10 miles the road went down. It went down hard and fast. We were hitting speeds of up to 45 mph for the next five miles down. When we hit 15 miles we stopped and turned around.


I really needed the downhill section as I was dying on that climb but now we had to go back up a five mile stretch that was much, much steeper than anything on the first 10 mile climb.

We broke this leg down into one mile increments. We would ride a mile, find a bit of shade, get a drink, and then start pedaling again. The last two segments really kicked our asses. I was swearing loudly and our speed dropped to an embarrassing 7-8 mph. All I could think about was how in the hell do they race up shit like this in the Tour de France?

When we reached the summit, and all that stood between us and the car was a 10 mile downhill, we took another short break. After drinking the last of our water we got into the biggest gear and screamed down through the canyon. Even going downhill we worked pretty hard through this section. We were pedaling pretty much flat out the whole way.

I love cycling but I was really fucking ready for this ride to be over. We leaned the bikes against the car and headed for the stream a few feet away. I stripped down and eased myself into a deep pool of water that was snow a short while ago. I don’t think I have ever felt better than I did at that moment when I finally submerged myself in that pool.

I would have a hard time saying what was the high point of that day: resting in that freezing pool, having a beer in a cool bar in Cle Elum after the ride, or this Shakespeare sonnet we read on the drive back to Seattle.

Farewell, thou are too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate.
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where in my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gav'st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav'st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprison growing,
Comes home again, or better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.


LOOKING WEST TOWARDS THE CASCADES Posted by Hello

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Mid-Life Crisis Clearance Sale

based on a true story

Found on the bulletin board near the mailbox in my building.
(comments in parenthesis are mine)

Items for Sale

Men’s Speedo Swimsuit x-large $12
(What is that stain and do you think it will come out?)

2001 Mazda Miyata $28,000
(Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just rent one of those sound trucks with the big loudspeakers and drive around town yelling out that you haven’t had a decent erection since the other Bush was in office?)

“What Women Want” book on tape. Never opened
and still in the box. $18
(Why bother learning now?)

Soloflex machine. Never used $500
(Way to give fitness the old college try!)

200+ back issues of Hustler. Make an Offer
(Here’s my offer: You stand on a high ledge, I’ll push.)

“Buns of Steel in 2 Minutes a Day” video $10
(Who’s got that kind of time?)

Penis enlargement Pump. Well used but still
In good condition. $30
(We’ll just assume that’s in the small size like the one Woody Allen has.)

4 bottles of Rogaine, assorted toupés, and existing membership
in Hair Club For Men $80
(Finally just said “Fuck it” and shaved your head, huh?)

“How to Pick Up Women” paperback $5
(With the women you’re likely to meet I’d advise to lift with your legs, not with your back.)

Assorted gold chains $50 each
(Any fake chest hair and bad after shave to go with those?)

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Back to School

About two times a year I go on a bender to try and improve my proficiency in the French language. This has been a life-long struggle, like someone trying to overcome obesity or trying to quit smoking. Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language can attest to the fact that this is a difficult task. Anything short of living in the host country for at least five years is a tough way to learn. Even when you live in another country, becoming fluent is tough and takes lots of work. I live with a piano but that don’t make me Liberace.

A few things about France. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether or not France is one of the most beautiful places in the world you should be watching the Tour de France on TV. The race itself is a beautiful spectacle, lots of colors and cool bikes. The peloton winds through countless villages, any one of which, if picked up and dropped in the U.S, would be the hottest tourist destination in our country. France is lousy with heart-breakingly picturesque countryside.

There was a picture in Sunday’s sports section of the main peloton of cyclists cruising along a country road during the Bagnoles-de-l’Orne to Avranches stage. A very majestic cow stands in an adjacent field watching the riders. The picture says to me that even being a cow in France isn’t such a bad thing. They give you a beautiful field in which to graze and every once in a while the Tour de France pedals by on a summer day. Sure, the cow will be on some Frenchman’s plate some day but eventually the clock runs out on all of us. If you’re a cow you could do worse than ending up in the loving hands of some French chef.

I happen to think that Paris is the greatest city in the world. Even if you ignore the astounding wealth of history Paris has to offer it would still be a great place to live. There is more life at one intersection in Paris than in some fairly large cities in which I have lived. Living in Paris has always been a dream of mine but life has conspired against me thus far. That may soon change.

I don’t have any grand strategy for learning French. When I go on one of my benders I usually pick up a novel in French and grind it out with a dictionary. Everyone says that getting a French girlfriend is the easiest way. I tried that and all I learned was, “J’ai besoin de plus de l’espace, salaud.”(I need more space).

There was a recent study that suggested that people who learn foreign languages are less likely to get Alzheimer’s. I don’t know if I buy that or not but at least it will be cool when I’m babbling incoherently in several tongues.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Good, Clean Fun

An introduction to alpine climbing

I’ve tried lots of different pursuits--some I stick with and others I have picked over and left behind. Whether or not I stick with climbing remains to be seen. As long as it stays fun I’ll keep going out. The thing is, fun is a very subjective word. In the words of Cole Porter what one person considers fun is another person’s idea of nothing to do. Fueled by images of Lance Armstrong motoring through the French Alps and Pyrenees in the Tour de France a couple of friends and I pedaled 18 miles up to the observation area at Mount Rainier National Park. What we considered fun probably looked like a death sentence to a lot of SUV occupants who shared the road with us although I think most people would enjoy the ride down.

“If you’re off on Monday let’s climb the Tooth. It’ll be fun.” Toby, my friend and climbing instructor knows my abilities better than I so I agreed. This would be my first alpine climb, a grade IV, 5.4 climb with maybe four pitches and topping off at 5,604’. How could I say no to fun? Much like the Eskimos supposedly have 2,000 words for snow (I’m thinking 1,999 of them are curse words) so we have a lot of definitions for that one, little, three-letter word—fun.

How could this trip get off to anything but an inauspicious start when I only managed to get three hours of sleep before my ride called and said he was on his way to pick me up? Let’s just say that five minutes to pack, and I use that word loosely, on three hours of sleep isn’t recommended. I threw my pack in the trunk and we were crossing Lake Washington when I did a mental inventory of things I forgot. Leaving the rain gear at home in the Northwest at any time of year is just asking for it. I sweated out the low clouds ahead of us and hoped that I didn’t leave behind any other vital equipment. I could live without the rain parka. I live in Seattle. We ignore the rain, anything less than a total downpour we call humidity. You can always spot the tourists in Seattle when it’s raining—they’re the ones with umbrellas.

45 miles east of Seattle on I-90 and just before our exit, the Tooth should be visible from the highway, but the clouds covered anything much higher than the car antenna. We weren’t discouraged; the clouds had been lifting at around midday all this week. We left the car at the Alpental ski area (don’t forget to display your Northwest Forest Pass) and began our approach. Or so we thought.

Toby had done this popular Western Cascades climb earlier this spring but had made the approach on skis. After losing several feet of snow the terrain looked a little different, but we weren’t expecting any difficulties—how hard could it be to find a mountain? We found a path heading in the right direction. After a few hundred yards it disappeared. Following what looked like a path up the mountain we soon found ourselves bushwhacking through some pretty nasty cover. The trail had suddenly gone cold.

We found footprints in a steep mud wash,, and for some strange, unexplained reason, we found this to be encouraging. Other hikers will no doubt take comfort in our footprints and continue with their futility. I would have had a sense of guilt leaving behind a false trail except that I couldn’t feel sorry for anyone dumb enough to be this far off-course.

We were heading towards the peak even though it wasn’t in view but then we saw what looked like an actual trail on the other side of the valley. Was that the true path? It was time for my ‘can-do’ attitude to show the way for us. “I’m not one of those people who have a problem with quitting.” I was mentally sorting out my breakfast order.

Fortunately the story doesn’t end there as we backtracked to find the Source Lake overlook trail. After a little over a mile the trail dissolves into a talus slope, which must be crossed, and then up another, larger talus slope to the North base of the Tooth. Easier said than done doesn’t begin to describe this little walk.

The funny thing about this traverse, well not exactly funny, I didn’t laugh much although I swore a lot so funny isn’t the right word at all. The curious thing about this traverse is that from a distance the two talus slopes didn’t seem to be a very formidable trek--a couple of gravel paths to cross. Distance obscures the scale. A simple little matter of ¾ of a mile or so turned into more than an hour of billygoating across boulders ranging in size from basketballs to UPS trucks. There is a bit of a path marked by rather small cairns, a Gaelic word for a pile of stones of a monument or gravesite. I was hoping that in this case they simply marked the trail left by other climbers and not a tribute to the ones who didn’t make it. The only thing worse than crossing this minefield was knowing we had to come back the same way. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a pain in the ass. I was having good, clean fun.

The word ‘fun’, by way of intonation, was put in quotation marks during our hike.
“I wonder if the approach to Everest is this much ‘fun’,” I asked.
“ I’m sure Everest is a lot more ‘fun’ because it’s ten times longer and you can’t breathe.”

Hiking in the mountains provides the ideal environment to contemplate life’s big questions: why is man compelled to carry out pointless endeavors such as the current one, which type of climbing is the truest essence of the sport, and who is hotter—Mary Ann or Ginger? I always pick the old broad whom everyone else seems to forget. This peripatetic discourse was interrupted occasionally by muffled obscenities as my leg sinks up to the shine bone in mud or as mosquitoes swarm me.

From the base of the Tooth we still had a little bit of hike around Pineapple Pass (5,280’), a small pinnacle a few feet south. On our descent we would be able to rappel down between the two peaks. After a few bites of food and a drink of water we were ready to start climbing. The summit had been obscured all morning but now it seemed we were getting a bit of a break. The clouds were lifting some and I could see down the valley to Snowqualmie Pass (3,127’). At this elevation I-90 looked like a length of thread winding through the mountains.

The climb was really the easiest I have done since starting this sport and I was grateful for that on my first alpine climb. This was certainly more vertical than anything I had yet encountered in the gym or at the sport climbing crags where I had been practicing this summer. I was also thankful for the comfortable belay ledges and set anchors up this route. Maybe next time I’ll be ready for a hanging belay but I can only handle so much ‘fun’ at a time.

Toby is one of you people who seem not to see any difference between trying to find a finger hold a few hundred feet up a sheer rock face and stepping out of the shower. I am not one of you people. One of those two things just happens to make my heart pound a bit harder and it’s not the one where I have a towel around my waist. Fearless I’m not. I lie somewhere between fearless and screaming at the top of my lungs in panic requiring repeated face slaps to bring me under control. I’m working on it.

After I had followed Toby to the second belay stance I admitted that I felt just ever so slightly nervous. He didn’t understand me.

“Nervous? About what?”

I peaked over the side of the ledge and down into the valley 1,000 feet or more below to emphasize my point before yelling, “I’M AFRAID OF HEIGHTS!” I screamed as a joke and to hear the cool echo but the rapid expulsion of carbon dioxide from my lungs had an immediate calming effect. The only problem is that now I’m terrified of stepping out of the tub.

I kept asking, “How many more pitches?” like a kid in a car pestering the driver with questions of distance remaining except instead of sitting in the back seat I was hanging on a rope a few hundred feet in the air. The summit is a satisfying slab of rocks that would be a great spot for a barbeque and the view is spectacular. I should say that the view would be spectacular if this peak wasn’t in the Cascades of Washington meaning that more often than not what you are viewing are clouds. Clouds can be spectacular, I guess.

After a couple of snapshots it’s time for the rappel down. While standing on a small ledge sorting out the gear for the next rappel I comment on what a drag it would be to drop the rope this far up.

“It would be a pretty tricky down-climb,” Toby looks over the precipice as he double-checks that he has clipped into the rope.
“We could always use the cell phone. A pretty embarrassing rescue I would imagine.”
“I’d take my chances with the down-climb.”

We didn’t drop the rope and there wouldn’t be an embarrassing rescue, at least not on this trip. The hike back was certainly easier than the way in. We discussed the whole concept of ‘fun’ as we hopped from boulder to boulder. We started out the day in search of a bit of fun and as much as I complained along the way it was fun. No one had a gun to my head at any time, I did it all on my own volition. We had perhaps 100 yards of talus to traverse before we would meet up with the Lake Source trail when I threw out this debate.

“We both agree that we’ve had fun today so if it was so much fun why don’t we turn around and do it again?”
“You want to do it again? I think we’ll run out of light.”
“Hell no I don’t want to do it again. I’m not sure I wanted to do it the first time. That was rhetorical.”

I did it the first time for fun but you’d have to pay me a lot of money to do it again, at least right away. Give me a day or two and I’d probably pay you for the privilege. What is it about climbing that makes it fun? Perhaps the fun comes partly from the fact that it is difficult, humbling.

Hippies Are People, Too

Of course, I don’t really believe that, but under the terms of my parole I’m required to at least say it once a day. I no longer hunt hippies for sport. Lord knows they aren’t an endangered species or anything, the entire west coast is infested with them, but these days the fines are too high. I know that $25 isn’t a lot of money for having that much fun but it starts to add up.

In the old days you could go on a hippie shooting spree and a simple “I’m sorry” was enough to get you off the hook and on your merry way again. Now they are likely to really throw the book at you. I was actually charged with manslaughter. That’s so ridiculous. First of all, manslaughter is such an ugly word, especially when all I did was drop a big clay flower pot on a hippie from my second story apartment window. Secondly, they didn’t take into account when I was arrested that the hippie was talking about stoner conspiracy theory stuff while he was playing hackey sack. I mean, what was I supposed to do?

The charges were dropped but I have to go to sensitivity training classes. We sit around in a circle and everyone has to say something good about hippies. At least that’s the way the meetings started out but we just sat around staring at each other in silence. The counselor changed the exercise so that we merely had to say something about hippies that we don’t find completely revolting.

After class we all revert back to our old ways and start hippie bashing. Like why do hippies always wear those really baggy belly dancer pants? And you just know they aren’t wearing underwear. Yeah, I know, just the thought of it is enough to make you sick. The idea of underwear is as repugnant to a hippie as the idea of government is to an anarchist. If you think about it, those two things, undies and government, perform a similar function.

Long hair doesn’t necessarily make a dude a hippie. It’s a lot more complicated these days. You can even be a short-haired hippie. Once a specific species, the hippie has evolved into a creature of immense diversity. Tie dye clothing is pretty hippie but not a 100% effective method of identification. If you want a fool-proof id, a veritable finger print, a smoking gun, a signed confession, then look for sandals with socks.

I have this theory that women foster much deeper prejudices than men. Here’s why: no matter how much hate a man professes for a group of people he will always sleep with a hot woman from that group--women won’t. I’ll bet $100 that Maynard T. Credler, supreme grand dragon and leader of the KKK, had his fair share of sexual fantasies about the gal who played Jimmy Walker’s sister on Good Times.

Hippie girls aren’t so bad. There isn’t anything about them that a new hairstyle and a good scrubbing can’t fix.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Dark Secrets of a Heterosexual Showtune Whore

Like any red-blooded American I have always wanted to shout the words, “Let’s put on a show!” I missed out on music training as a kid so that scenario never happened growing up. I’m at an age now where quoting Mickey Rooney is liable to get me beat up or at least fired. The only show I’ll be putting on any time soon will be in the privacy of my own living room with my front door dead-bolted and the blinds tightly drawn.

I went to the music store today ostensibly to seek out a transcription of Bach’s trio sonatas for organ arranged for piano and guitar. No luck finding that piece but I did pick up yet another cheese-ball collection called Lounge Music for piano. When I got home I put on my powder blue leisure suit and began pecking out everything from Copacabana to What the World Needs Now. I even put a tip jar on my piano to add more spice to my fantasy of someday playing at a Holiday Inn somewhere in Kansas. Whenever this sort of lounge lizard musicianship is mocked all I can think is, “Lucky bastard.”

When I was growing up our family had recordings of all of the great musicals. I hated rock and roll when I was a kid but I knew the lyrics to everything from Ain’t Misbehavin’ to West Side Story from Annie to Zorba. Naturally, I kept all of this a secret and applied myself dutifully to baseball and pretended to like Led Zeppelin. Maybe I fooled everyone around me but secretly I always felt that Richard Burton and Zero Mostel were a lot cooler than Mick Jagger and Robert Plant.

My first job was as a busboy in an expensive restaurant, a venerable institution that had been around forever. There was a piano bar with about the most flaming pianist you could ever imagine. The crowd was older and preferred music of the show tunes/torch song variety. The restaurant was called The Gay Nineties so I suppose they had a huge stack of resumes to choose from when it came to entertainers vying for the job.

My thug buddies working with me constantly made fun of the fruity piano player, but I thought he had the best job in the world. The first time I ever heard ragtime was when he played Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer for the old fogy customers at The Gay Nineties. Bunny, or whatever his name was, would always be pretty cool in my book.

To this day I can’t pass a piano bar without putting a five spot in the big brandy snifter. I am never so presumptuous as to think that this meager tip warrants a trick from the artist, but if he asks me for a song I know a few I like hearing. Just about everything by Richard Rodgers will do, songs like Bewitched and Might as Well Be Spring. These types of songs have been the staple of jazz artists for the past 75 years.

The Look of Love

from Casino Royale

words by Hal David and music by Burt Bacharach

The look of love is in your eyes,
a look your smile can’t disguise.
The look of love,
It’s saying so much more than just words could ever say,
And what my heart has heard well,
It takes my breath away.

The look of love,
is on your face,
a look that time can't erase.
Be mine tonight,
let this be just the start of so many nights like this.
Let's take a lover's vow and then seal it with a kiss.

I can’t hardly wait to hold you,
Feel my arms around you,
How long have I waited,
Waited just to love you,
Now that I have found you.
Don’t ever go.


Makes a guy wish that he could sing.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Mourning a Tragic Loss

Is there anything in this world as sad as the closing of a neighborhood bar? As human beings we all come with an expiration date. We all know that we have to go at some point. Bars don’t have to die and when they do it is simply from our neglect, pure and simple. Whenever a bar closes I am tortured with the thought that perhaps I could have done more for it. I see myself as sort of the Florence Nightingale of drinking establishments although I don’t wear the uniform these days because I think that it makes me look fat. I visit my patients as often as I can.

Nikko’s is this sort of Greek restaurant slash sports bar that catered to the crowds from the basketball arena across the street. It’s not like I even really liked the place but it lies directly between my apartment and the gym. It was a decent place to catch an inning or two of the Mariners while having a beer. The food was decent. When you eat out almost every night you need all of the choices you can get.

I went there last night to watch the Tour de France and get a bite to eat when I saw that they had closed. There is another option for a sports bar on the next block but I liked Nikko’s because it was rarely crowded and the light is good for reading.

There were enough TV’s at Nikko’s so that I could get one turned to the Tour de France without having some knucklehead complain about it. This may come as a surprise but there are actually people in this world who are less than obsessed with the Tour. Thank god that today’s race was a stage for the sprinters and Lance wasn’t likely to make a move up in the standings.

Nikko’s is gone now. I hope that you are happy. Perhaps if you had one less Blockbuster night, and went out and socialized instead, this tragedy could have been avoided. Did you really need to see Sister Act again? What is it with you and that movie? A perfectly good bar lies dead out in the street while you sit and watch the exploits of a woman pretending to be a nun. You really make me sick. At least you could have had the decency to attend the wake with us last night at the Mexican joint down the street.

For today’s bonus essay I am going to bore the shit out of you by talking about classical music again. If you have ten dollars to spare and wish to greatly improve your lot in this fleeting existence I would suggest that you buy Mozart, The Piano Sonatas, volume I as performed by Glenn Gould. There is really nothing that I could say about Mozart’s sonatas that hasn’t already been said by some dead guy somewhere except to say that I can never play this CD without being completely distracted by practically every note. It is never just background music.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Selling Smug

During the Outdoor Life Network television coverage of the Tour de France they run this commercial for an SUV. It’s a real leviathan that gets 11mpg in the city; a Bhopal with four doors, an Exxon Valdes with all-wheel drive, an automotive Chernobyl. The commercial shows two yuppie soccer moms leaving the store. Both are carrying two big bags of groceries. I’m guessing inside the bags are bottles of Perrier, Portobello mushrooms, and expensive cabernet.

It is raining cats and dogs and both soccer moms are getting a bit wet. One soccer mom hits her car remote and the tailgate on her gas guzzling pig of an SUV pops open and the soccer mom is saved. The other soccer mom dies a horrible death in the rain because she doesn’t have a gas guzzling pig with an automatic tailgate. As she drives out of the parking lot the soccer mom with the life-saving automatic tailgate runs over the lifeless corpse of the soccer mom who has succumbed to the fatal rain storm. The suspension is so smooth that the victorious soccer mom doesn’t even spill her martini as she glides over the body. I only saw the ad once so maybe I am getting some of the details muddled but I think that I got most of it right.

The point of this commercial is that if you buy their SUV with the automatic tailgate your life will be greatly improved. Of course, you could have just bought a $5 umbrella but where’s the fun in that? Is it possible to show your superiority with an inexpensive umbrella? No, for that you need a $40,000 SUV that gets 11mpg city. I’m surprised that they don’t make bullet-proof SUV’s and show an ad of a soccer mom being chased by gun-wielding Muslims.

Lots of advertising is nausea-inducing but I get a big kick out of the way in which luxury items are hawked in our media. Johnnie Walker sells its scotch with a print ad showing a cocktail napkin with a simple business idea sketched on it in pen. The ad states, “A simple idea can change the world.” Message here: get shit-faced on our booze and make a bundle.

An ad for Rolex watches features author Peter Benchley and some other yutz claiming they are saving sharks from extinction and they are doing it with $18,000 gold watches. Why not try opting for a $20 Casio and sending the $17,980 you saved to Greenpeace and let them save the whales?

Another print ad shows a 50’ish rich turd standing on his pool deck watering the lawn as he peruses the newspaper. The ad asks, “Invest so you can retire or is it the other way around?” I have no fucking idea what that means so your guess is better than mine. Maybe it means that through investing you, too, can be fat and white some day.

A while back I was sitting in a café with a woman I know when a new Chevy Avalanche SUV drove past spewing emissions. This SUV has all sorts of rubber sidewalls to protect it from the harsh elements soccer moms are likely to encounter at the mall. My friend commented that it looked like a piece of Tupperware. I doubt this is the macho image that Chevy had in mind.

The print ad for the Avalanche goes like this: The Avalanche can handle everything you’ll need on your next journey. I’ve never taken a "journey" before but this ad assumes that whoever buys this over-powered piece of Tupperware has already taken at least one journey and plans another as soon as they sign over their life to own this ridiculous vehicle. How I envy these intrepid journey-takers.

Another one of my favorite print ads is for a Land Rover. The Land Rover is seen through the window of a yuppie restaurant. It is parked out on the street in front and is slightly dirty. The ads states, “You don’t park it. You rest it.” ‘You’ is the key word here. You, you big adventure seeking tough-guy. Inside the restaurant is empty save for a woman seated at a table with her back to us. We would assume that her companion for this sexy, late afternoon tryst is none other than you. You, with all of your natural hair and I’ll bet you have a really large penis; you do have a Land Rover, after all. Who else would be able to tame this beast of an automobile? I’m not gay but men like you make me wonder about myself.

Back when I was in high school I referred to anything that I couldn’t afford as ‘bourgeois’ but I have grown up some since then. If you want to blow your money on worthless crap that’s your business, you don’t need to rationalize it to me. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that merely buying something is gong to turn you into someone heroic. Remember a few things, folks. Booze doesn’t make you smarter or get you laid. An SUV won’t turn you into a modern day Captain Cook or protect you from the big bad world. Only drug dealers buy Rolex watches, everyone else buys the knock offs. Questions after the break.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Lance, Rhymes with Tour de France

And vice versa

A lot of things in this world give me a boner. Among those things are bicycling and France. Just walking into my apartment you have to run a gauntlet of bicycles (3) and bicycle-related gear. Once inside, my affiliations with France are obvious if not as perilously obvious as my bike fetish: a bookcase of French literature and a water color of Notre Dame Cathedral on the wall.

These two interests come together like colliding freight trains during the month of July. The Tour de France, or Le Tour, is one of the great spectacles in sport. If you don’t agree with me on this just give me your address and I will ride one of my bikes over to your house and beat you up.

I no longer have bootleg cable at home so I am forced to get my daily Tour fix elsewhere. The Outdoor Life Network (OLN) coverage is excellent and I try to watch it every day--last year I taped every single stage. I either go to my gym and watch as I ride the exercise bike or I find a bar and watch the repeat coverage later in the day. I can’t imagine that anyone but a true bike geek could get off on watching a bike race on TV. I love every minute of it. I lust after the great bikes they ride (especially the time trial bikes) and the backdrop to the race is the beautiful French countryside. What's not to like?

The Tour de France is also the greatest motivational tool when it comes to my own cycling fitness. What I like most about cycling is hill climbing. The Pyrenees and the Alps have nothing on Washington’s Cascade Mountains. I go out at least once a week and find a nice long mountain road to ride. It is nice to be able to watch as the Tour gets into the mountain stages and be able to say, “Been there, done that.” The eighteen miles up Mount Rainier is as tough and even longer than anything on the Tour. Of course, they sometimes ride three peaks in one stage.

Lance Armstrong is going for his fourth consecutive Tour victory this year. He began in high form by winning the opening day prologue, a short, 7 kilometer time trial. On the first full day on the Tour Lance put the hammer down and showed everyone that he is the man to beat again this year. It was a flat stage where Lance had nothing to prove. In these first few stages Lance simply needs to stay in the pack until he makes his move during one of the upcoming time trials or in the mountains. Lance didn’t win the stage but he upped the ante a bit that day.

I can’t see anyone challenging Lance in this year’s Tour but a lot can happen in 2,000 miles of racing. Christophe Moreau of the Credit Agricole team--my favorite rider next to Lance--may have a chance but only if Lance stumbles. What will probably happen is that Lance will win and take another step towards solidifying his reputation as one of the best cyclists in the history of the sport. See you all in Paris on July 28th.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

It's Hip to Be Stupid

After an NBC reporter asked French President Jacques Chirac a question in French George Bush remarked, “The guy memorizes four words and he plays like he’s intercontinental.”

Our president is not a bright guy. From what I can see he didn’t have a single serious thought plague his over-privileged mind until he was well into his forties. Had he not been a member of the Bush oligarchy he would be harmlessly off somewhere doing whatever it is middle-aged frat rats do. His ascendancy to the throne is part of an orchestrated battle waged by the forces of intellectual sloth over erudition. He is not just uneducated, he is anti-intellectual.

We live in a culture devoid of public intellectuals. I can’t think of a popular figure in America who would be considered a thinker. The mere mention of the word intellectual brings out guffaws from a lot of people. Intellectuals are portrayed in our media as effeminate, elitist bores. It is getting to the point where anyone who conjugates a verb correctly is suspected of not being a regular guy, especially among athletes. If atrocious grammar and malapropisms are the mark of a regular guy then our president is as regular as Homer Simpson. The problem is that Homer is a parody, George Bush is our president.

Homer is a brilliant parody of dull-witted men but our popular culture is overflowing with portraits of imbeciles that are not parodies. Stupid people are often the heroes of movies. They triumph over pointy-headed intellectuals and save the day. I could give 100 examples in movies where the dim-witted archetype triumphs over erudition. I would be hard-pressed to name a movie in which an intellectual was portrayed in a favorable light, let alone one in which the intellectual was the hero.

If our movies do portray intelligent people they are generally of the freak show variety: geniuses with serious flaws to be overcome—think Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind. By intellectuals I am referring to mere mortals who have chosen a path of learning and thought. Name a movie where the characters talk about books or anything remotely high-minded.

We have even created an entire genre of film dedicated to the heroic nature of inferior intelligence. I find it odd that as a culture we feel that there is so much we can learn from people of child-like intelligence—think Forest Gump, Rain Man, I am Sam, Sling Blade, etc.. Adam Sandler has built a career out of portraying lovable, mildly-retarded goofs.

Hollywood serves up the portrait of the dumb, likeable type because it is a non-threatening message. Mustn’t make people feel stupid by using references they won’t understand. Mustn’t show people reading, else the public think they are expected themselves to read. Make people feel comfortable in their ignorance which is better than prodding them to think for themselves. Thinking may lead them to challenge what is slopped out to them on a daily basis and called entertainment.

Perhaps this anti-intellectualism is a result of a failure by our “cultural elite” (I fucking hate that term but use it as a linguistic shortcut) to speak in a voice that can be understood by everyone. Dickens was wildly popular in his time, as was Hemingway, and Joseph Heller. Tom Wolfe’s brilliant novel,The Bonfire of the Vanities, was a huge bestseller some fifteen years ago. Sometimes great artists are ignored by their generation but many times great art has had wide popular appeal.

There is a wonderful scene in the movie Amadeus where Mozart is sitting in a popular theater during the performance of one of Schikaneder’s vaudevilles. At one point the play onstage parodies one of Mozart’s arias from Don Giovanni, Là ci darem la mano and all of the peasants in the house begin singing Mozart’s song. Even though it was written for the opera, the "cultural elite" of the time, the beauty of this song was not lost on the common people and they knew it by heart. I think Hollywood constantly underestimates the intelligence of the public of today. That’s just my opinion.

These days it’s hip to be stupid and trivial. I’ll never forget watching Conan O’Brien’s show when he first came on the air. His guest was William F. Buckley. Here is a guy who has written more books than Conan has probably ever read and he copped this silly cooler-than-you attitude with Buckley. After a few minutes of pointless banter in which Conan was embarrassingly out of his league (embarrassing to watch that is, Conan is too hip to be embarrassed by his ignorance) Buckley got up from the couch and played a little Bach on the harpsichord. I had never seen Buckley play before but I knew he was a pianist from reading his writings. He represented to me about as close as you can get to being a renaissance man in our day and age. Kurt Vonnegut once referred to Buckley as the winner in the decathlon of life.

As Buckley played his piece Conan switched the monitors to a clip of Lurch from The Munsters playing the harpsichord. Conan has gone on to make quite a career out of kissing the asses of chimps like Sandler. I haven’t watched him since that show.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

In a Perfect World

Like they say, if you don’t have a dream then dreams can’t come true.

At the federal penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois convicted insider trading felon Martha Stewart begins taping her new program Martha Stewart Living in Lock Down. On today’s show Martha will demonstrate to fellow inmates how to make an attractive shiv out of a lunch tray. Tomorrow’s topic Convincing Your Cellmate it’s Time to Redecorate.

In a unanimous decision handed down today concerning the separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme court has ruled that corporate-sponsored celebrity worship is illegal. A tough new “3 strikes and you’re out” law now limits actors to three staring film roles. Justice David Suter spoke to reporters outside the courthouse today. “The court tried to do this years ago but for some reason Thorogood Marshall was a big Pauli Shore fan.” Steve Gutenberg plans to fight the ruling. "I think I have one more Police Academy movie in me." In response to Gutenberg's criticism of the ruling Justice Suter replied, "I rest my case."

Corporate officers of failed conglomerates have been forced to work at minimum wage jobs for two years while living in a half-way house for the ethically challenged. They will be required to balance their own checkbooks with the standard $25 penalty imposed for fudging the books. The comings and goings of the house will be filmed and broadcast on MTV’s Real World “Den of Corporate Jackals” edition.


The fate of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was finally settled when both parties agreed to abide by the LEFTBANKER ACCORDS in which one party will remain in Israel/Palestine and the other will be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. where each family will be given a Starbuck’s franchise, a $500 gift certificate to the Gap, and a 10 year old Honda Accord. Both parties wanted the emigration option. The matter was settled once and for all with a 3 on 3 basketball game. Palestine won on a last second three-pointer by Amid Malek. Arafat and Sharon were both held scoreless in the heated match. Sharon fouled out in the first minute of play for repeatedly ordering rocket attacks on the Palestinian cheerleaders. Malek was highly critical of Arafat’s performance in the game. “Would it kill that pussy to take a charging foul once in a while? All he wants is an easy lay-up.” Malek immediately removed his Palestine jersey after the game and wore an official Major League Baseball Sammy Sosa jersey during the press conference. Malek explained that his inspired play in the game was a result of his being singled out by Hamas as the next suicide bomber if the Palestinians lost. A winded Arafat told reporters, "It is to Disneyland where I am soon going there."

Internationally renowned writer and multi-billionaire, Leftbanker, has paid Adam Sandler a reported $2 billion to never make another movie as long as Sandler lives. The alledged comedian is also under contractual obligation to be cremated so that he can’t make any movies after his demise in the Weekend at Bernie’s tradition.

As long as we’re dreaming:

After years of defeat at the hands of the Yankees the Seattle Mariners swept the Yankees in the first ever intra-league World Series. Japanese hitting sensation Ichiro went 24-24 in the series. After the humiliating defeat, Yankees ace Roger Clemmens said, “I hate Ichiro. I tried to throw a pitch at his head and he knocked it into the gap for a double.” In a nod to baseball history, Ichiro, like the Babe before him, pointed to where he would hit the ball. However, instead of the left field bleachers Ichiro pointed to a spot four feet in front of the plate where he dropped down a bunt for a base hit.

Monday, July 01, 2002

Plan B

Back many, many years ago when I was still working on my plan A for life (college, job, family, etc.) I visited a lonely and fairly remote village on the Pacific Ocean in the north of Peru.

The Pacific Highway turned inland for many miles at this point on the coast so there wasn't a direct bus route to the village of Puerto Chicama. I had just spent a few days of surrealist reverie in the mountain town of Cajamarca. It was here in Cajamarca that Pizarro began his conquest of the Incas almost 500 years ago. Holy Week had just ended, or Semana Santa as they refer to their Mardi gras. I could digress for many pages on that pagan/Christian festival but let me keep to this story.

I was on the Cajamarca-Lima bus and it was about 2:00 a.m. when I noticed that we were approaching the cross road to Puerto Chicama. I grabbed my pack and moved up to talk to the driver. He told me there was a small village on the highway at the cross road and he would drop me off there. As the bus sped away in the dead of night I looked around and wondered if the driver would hear me if I screamed for him to come back. The village was completely dark. Not one single, solitary light could be seen in any of the streets or inside any of the dwellings. Puerto Chicama was another few miles due west from here but that was an even smaller village than this and probably locked-up even tighter.

I was about halfway through a year study program in Peru. I attended the Catholic University in Lima, the best school in the country. When I told Peruvians that I was studying there it was like telling them I was going to Harvard AND Princeton. When I say that I was studying at that university I should put the word study in quotation marks because I did lots of things and study was probably what I spent the smallest part of my day doing. To this day I speak pretty good Spanish so I don't think I was wasting my time there. How many people can say that they actually remember anything they learned in college?

The fact that I was in a pitch-dark village in the middle of nowhere didn't bother me in the least at this stage of my stay in Peru and I was ready to sleep in some doorway or other. As I searched for a suitable place to flop for what remained of the night I saw a sign for a hotel. I knocked quietly on the front door. After a few moments an old woman carrying a candle opened the door. As she showed me to my room she explained that the village was completely without electricity for a few hours each night. She lit a candle or two in my room and shuffled out the door. I blew out the candles from the bed and noticed that the village was as quiet as it was dark.

The next morning I hitchhiked the three miles or so to Puerto Chicama. I had no sooner shouldered my pack when a guy about my age approached me and explained that the village had one hotel but not a single restaurant. If I cared to eat while staying here he invited me to take meals prepared by his mother at his house. Sounded good to me. He led me to the hotel. The place must have been built in better times because it was a pretty nice structurally although the rooms had become pretty worn out. The desk was downstairs and the rooms were above. The hallway between the rooms was open air and there was a single bathroom and an outdoor shower for the entire floor. The only other guests were a couple of Peruvian surfers. The bathroom was pretty nasty but my room was clean enough. I loved all of the graffiti and artwork on the walls drawn by other travelers. I am not much of an artist but I couldn't keep myself from adding to the decor. I penciled in a beach scene with palms and seagulls. I wrote a short paragraph explaining my existence in this coastal town and left a few suggestions for fellow travelers concerning other spots they might care to visit.

The second floor of the hotel had a balcony with a splendid view of the Pacific. I spent a good deal of time up there drinking cold Crystal beer, reading, writing, and gazing out over the water. I always tried to imagine I was an Inca seeing the masts of a Spanish galleon on the horizon. Besides trying to coax Mozart into leading a healthier life (so that he would have lived longer and wrote more music) my second biggest historical fantasy would be warning the Incas that the Spanish were a sack of bastards and should be killed on sight.

I threw my pack in my room, took a cold shower, and headed out. It was lunch time and I almost immediately came upon the guy who offered me board at his house. His mamá could cook like no other. I've never had better seafood in my life. Peru has about the best shrimp in the world, crab, and fish of all sorts--most notable here was the flounder. I had three meals a day in their home and was treated like a visiting family member. The señora's specialty was caldo de mariscos, a sort of Peruvian bouillabaisse with a huge cracked crab in the middle.

Puerto Chicama is fairly well-known among the surfer crowd for having near perfect waves and a long break along the southern point of the town. I wasn't a surfer so I spent my first day exploring the coast to the south. There is a small island close to shore so I swam to it and hiked up to the top. When I was living there the chief export in Peru was fishmeal, a poultry feed made from anchovies. The cold Humboldt Current coming up the west coast of South America is one of the world's greatest fishing grounds. Another big industry in Peru is the production of fertilizer made from guano or bird droppings. These droppings are shoveled off the coastal islands like the one I was currently exploring. The sea birds of Peru are as diverse as they are numerous and their food supply--the anchovies--is endless. So Peru makes money on feeding birds we eat and selling the shit of other birds.

After I reached the top of this small island I noticed a raised earth platform, perhaps three feet high--like a table. There was a human skull on the table. The really weird thing is that after having lived for six months or so in Peru and learning about all of the strange Indian cultures this didn't really strike me as odd. The drug culture among the various Indian civilizations is pretty intense. Coca leaves are sold (or were back then) legally in the Andes. Hallucinogenics can be found occurring in all sorts of plants. Although the skull didn't really alarm me I decided to swim back to shore just to be on the safe side. When it comes to ritual human sacrifice I prefer to error on the side of caution. Call me a pussy if you want to.

Although I don't have an ounce of entrepreneurial blood in my body I would sit on the balcony of my hotel and look out over the beach and dream of turning this place into a tourist destination. I began writing a short story about a disgruntled American who pulls up stakes in the U.S.A. and moves to Puerto Chicama to renovate a run-down hotel. He works with the villagers to turn the place into a sort of Peruvian Martha's Vineyard. God save the planet from such a dream but I have always thought that if life gets so bad that I needed an out I would try a similar adventure. I thought back then that everyone should have a plan B if things turned to shit, a sort of trapdoor to life, a parachute, an escape hatch.

I was a college student back then. I got fairly good grades and saw the world as my oyster with infinite possibilities. But even in those halcyon days I was already dropping out. I discussed this with the other students in my program, mostly kids from east or west coast schools much more expensive and prestigious than the Midwest state school I attended. I said that we all must have been dropping out by spending a year in Peru instead of spending this time in some intern program in Washington, D.C. or on Wall Street. They all disagreed with me. Who knows, maybe they are all doctors and lawyers at this point. I couldn't say if I've taken the road less traveled. It always looked pretty crowded to me but it has made all the difference.

I figure that I am on plan 6 right about now. I've been through the entire alphabet of plans, plans A-Z, then breezed through the primary colors, and 1-5 of the ordinal numbers. Life has been pretty good through them all I must say. Not too many things I can complain about that weren't all my doing. I have plan 7 laid out fairly well right now and have been saving cash for two solid years. More on that later.